Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

2012 has been a wonderful year for books already. I haven’t read anything as yet that hasn’t entertained me, and in fact, I have added books to my all time favourite list. This trend continued with the beautiful and haunting collection of short stories by Lucy Wood – Diving Belles.

In Diving Belles, Lucy Wood explores Cornish folklore with an almost romantic passion and depicts a variety of entrancing situations that leave the reader guessing. Each story is a snapshot of an everyday life affected by one Cornwall’s myths. Each story offers very little in the way of an explanation which leaves the reader dumbstruck by what occurred. Wood uses this mysticism to lure the audience in and dazzle with gorgeous prose and sharp dialogue.

When I was reading the collection I often compared Lucy to Audrey Niffenegger in her ability to twist life around abnormality. Niffenegger uses her skill as a storyteller to make anything weave into a narrative with perfection and Lucy Wood wields such a power, too. When reading the story entitled “Countless Stones” we learn about Rita who is living her life and dealing with an ex-boyfriend but she wakes up one morning and realises that she is turning to stone. This happens to everyone in her town, sometimes it lasts for a week and sometimes people never come back.

She travels through the story preparing her home for her absence – she waters her plants, tidies up and puts her faith in the neighbours who will come and turn off her boiler and freezer. This is her normal life and not once does the reader find doubt in the story.

“Countless Stones” is one of the best stories in the collection; although, there is only one story that falls slightly short of its imagined mark. The story is about a talking Magpie and how it lures a man from his car. There’s nothing overtly wrong with the story itself, but it doesn’t offer the same unknowable aspect.

Among my other favourites was the titular story “Diving Belles”. This story sees Iris searching for her husband after one night they went to bed, the sea rose and entered their house, and then, as the sea recedes her husband is missing. As with “Countless Stones” this is normality for those in the tale and Iris employs the use of the company Diving Belles to find him.

Wood generally uses a simple narrative technique of telling two parallel stories that interweave and these represent the past and present. So, as we see Iris diving beneath the waves to search out her husband she reminisces on how she has lived without him and come to be in the diving bell. I won’t spoil any of the endings but each story has either a wonderful twist or leaves the reader wondering what will occur to these characters we have grown to love in such a small number of pages.

Because as we read we do fall in love with the cast that Wood uses and the world she creates – a world with bone graveyards of fallen giants, wishing trees that grant your wish if you actually know how to cast one and nursing homes for witches. A great short story writer can encapsulate 300 pages into just 20 and fill our heads with wondrous imaginaries that will linger for days. Wood is a great short story writer.

My favourite story has to be “Note from the House Spirits”. This story follows a collection of unknown house spirits as they watch the comings and goings of people who live within their walls. I think what Lucy has done brilliantly with this story is raise a number of emotions within the reader in such a short piece of fiction. We have the elation as the spirits approve of tidy people who straighten the shower curtain and we have their pain and misery when an owner tears down walls to accommodate their living. These feelings are reflected in the humans in the story as they live, argue, move on and die.

The story tells a dozen mini stories in one and fills your head with your own memories and feelings towards your current and past homes. It’s a magical story that pulls in the reader and leaves them saddened that the tale has to end.

I’m sure that I could go on pushing the positives of the book and bolster my opinion of Lucy Wood, but I must stop. Diving Belles is a collection of stories that anyone who has ever imagined wonderful things existing in our world, must read. I was utterly captivated from page one and didn’t want it to end. To top it off this is Lucy’s debut and I can imagine only brilliant things to come with her second outing – a full novel.

Published by Bloomsbury. This book was purchased and read on Kindle.

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